Monday, November 1, 2021

Do Western women in Taiwan want "any white f---er who pops along"? No, so don't stereotype.


Consider these two facts:

There are more foreign women than men in Taiwan. Mostly, they're from Southeast Asia or China and either married to Taiwanese men or working, often as domestic and health aides.

The opposite is true of "foreign professionals" -- they're not all Western, but the vast majority are male

Add to that two observations: first, the two communities don't intermingle much, even when it would be beneficial (say, foreign professionals showing up to support foreign blue-collar workers in seeking better labor conditions). Second, while there are social media groups for foreign women in Taiwan, they trend heavily towards heteronormativity. I've heard firsthand complaints from women who don't always fit into expected boxes that there aren't many welcoming spaces for them.

When it comes to love, dating and sex, this is a problem. There just aren't that many of us. In my observation, that means our own perspectives and experiences are simply not heard as much. It also means that there's a subset of expat men who fill that void with pretty brutal stereotypes: that we're all sexless hags (don't click that link, it might be the worst blog post I've ever read and honestly any decent person would take it down). That we're begging for anything we can get, that we're desperate and unwanted, that it's best not to talk to any Western women you aren't interested in. That we're all straight and cis, that we don't date Taiwanese men. Or that it's okay to treat any woman you deem "unfuckable" like garbage

Each and every one of these assumptions is wrong. 

Every once in awhile, I even come across someone assuming I'm single (and bitter, angry, desperate etc. etc.) simply because I'm an outspoken Western woman in Asia. This amuses me, considering how public I am about having been married for quite some time. We celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary last year. 

I've written on this topic before but intended to do a new post with more diverse voices for quite some time. So I asked around and found a few women willing to tell their stories, with their full editorial control. Everything here is published with active consent. Together, they dispel the notion that there is any one narrative that can be applied to all of us. Our experiences are varied and unique. They're occasionally heartbreaking or preposterous. They're often fulfilling and fun. They're often far more positive than the stereotypes would have you believe -- and from what these women have said, they're getting it more and better than a lot of the sadsack men filling up the bars we don't go to because we don't need their negative bullshit. 

The best way to learn about what life is like for a community of people is to spend time with them, and hear what they have to say if they're willing to talk. It's not to take generalizations you've already made and apply it to everybody. So, I'll stop here and let the stories stand on their own. 

From "Uma", in an open relationship:

I moved here ahead of my husband to get us set up here — I didn’t come with a job or recruitment or anything like that, and my husband had some things to do in the US. We have an open relationship, so I’d meet people through social events and had an online dating profile. I also hooked up with a few women, sometimes in a group situation. I remember early on before my husband arrived thinking, because he is a great lover — very considerate, doesn’t make assumptions about what someone does or doesn’t want, in touch and likes to please — I couldn’t wait to introduce some of these women to him so they could have that great experience too.

I had some interesting and fun experiences. Most were with other Westerners, though there were some Asian-Americans. No Taiwanese men, which is unfortunate. I think people who say “I’m just not attracted to Asian men” — well, you can say you’ve never been attracted to one before, that’s just telling your story. But to dismiss all of them as a class? If you only feel attracted to certain body types or races, I wonder what your media consumption has been like? If you’ve mostly only ever shown white men and maybe a couple of black men in sexual situations, then yeah, you’re probably going to believe you’re attracted to one type. Or you’ve mostly been shown a narrow stereotype of diverse Asian men.

It’s the same for women’s bodies: if you are only exposed to one type portrayed sexually you’re likely to think you’re only attracted to that type. “What you like” can change if you want. 

Anyway, I had a really good thing going with one Asian-American guy. It was hot chemistry and we were getting into all the kinky stuff you don’t really talk about on those first date like bondage, penetrating him, stuff like that. We both agreed we’d enjoy it until we stopped feeling it, and that’s exactly what happened. It was all healthy, safe, respectful.  

At one point my husband and I had a girlfriend. Some people would say crappy things like “oh, she’s your plaything,” but she was our girlfriend for nearly two years; we were all important to each other and emotionally invested in our relationship. It was hard for all of us when that ended, truly. 

The main thing I want to say is that dating can be hard anywhere — that would be true in Taipei, Tokyo, Paris, New York. I don’t think it’s especially harder because we’re in Taiwan except where we close ourselves off. My sex life here has been vibrant, exciting, passionate, and fulfilling. 

The only personal downside is that, since we don't live in Taipei, you do have to make social things happen in your local community. 

And there are some shitty men — I agree it’s harder to avoid them when you don’t live in Taipei. Entitled sexists, racists, you see a lot of alcohol abuse especially if someone doesn’t have a robust local community or support system. There have been times I’ve wanted to tell them off them but I hate to admit I moderate myself, knowing I’ll see them at the next beach party. I don’t say outright that I think they’re garbage people but it probably shows on my face! I hate this feeling afraid to affirm their stupid stereotypes toward Western women in Taiwan, even though I know it’s ridiculous — like if I get mad, I’m just another “bitter angry white woman.” I just “need to get laid” or “don’t have a sense of humor.” I get laid and laugh plenty and well. Maybe you’re just a lazy, entitled bigot?

 I’m not interested in those men. 

That white Western entitlement, the sort of fat-phobic misogyny that Buxom Babe Abroad has experienced, or the stereotyping they do of Western women where they think we’re sad losers and they’re kings…I mean that’s a boner-killer for me. I don’t want that, nobody with any self-respect wants that, but they think we’re desperate because we don't want THEM? Taiwan deserves better than that.  I may not have experienced it in the same way as Buxom Babe because we have different bodies [ed: this person is white and on the slimmer side] but I know the attitude well.

This stereotype some Western men have in Taiwan that Western women are all bitter, angry, desperate — it’s not true. At least for me, I couldn’t be happier or more satisfied. 

From "Emma", a lesbian woman in a relationship:

I came out fairly late, in my 20s, and actually moved to Taiwan for a girl. I was living in South Korea, and in the town where I lived, there wasn’t much of a gay scene — in fact we’d always complain about just how hard it was to be gay in that society. 

I basically scoured a popular dating site and was talking to someone in Taiwan. I came to Taiwan on vacation to see her, and I just felt this was a much more chill place. I eventually moved here, though that relationship turned out to be somewhat toxic. She was very family-oriented, though she wasn’t out to her family. I felt like she always wanted a lot from me, but didn’t have any time for me. For example, she would get mad that I didn’t wish her father a happy Father’s Day even though he’s not my father, and he didn’t know we were together. She also had a very serious personality. I think she’s abroad now, but anyway that didn’t last. 

After that I dated another woman, who was more into partying — specifically the EDM scene. We’d go to a lot of shows, festivals and clubs together. When her mom called, she’d have me put on music or something and tell her she was at a cafe with friends. That was actually a lot of fun, but she had a bit of a hard time being serious or taking us seriously. It didn’t last very long, but I have to say it was a lot of fun! 

My current girlfriend is a good mix of the two types — she can be a homebody but will go out if there’s a reason to go out. She’s not out to her whole family yet, but her sister knows. Her mother only knows me as her daughter’s “foreign friend”, or that we live together. This is the first relationship I’ve had here where my girlfriend didn’t live with her parents. She’s planning to come out eventually, so we’ll see where that goes. We’ve been together for more than three years, and we just moved in together recently. So we’re not close to marriage or anything like that yet, though I’m happy it’s legal and possible here. I suppose whenever we do meet, they won’t expect me to be like a typical man in a relationship with their daughter, because I’m very obviously not that at all. 

We met on a dating app, which I think everyone does these days. It feels like that’s the easiest way to do it. I did try to go to some lesbian events or bars here, but there just aren’t many bars or specific lesbian spaces, especially compared to what’s on offer for gay men. There are events, though. It feels like that everywhere: all these offerings for gay men — bars, events, parties, nightlife — and not nearly as many for lesbians. We’ve all heard the jokes, but seriously, I do wonder if lesbians just don’t go out enough to support more robust nightlife? They seem to be into more intellectual things like book clubs, but that’s conducive to, you know, friend groups, not necessarily dating. And when there are events or bars, it feels like Ts and Ps hooking up (’T’ for tomboy, ‘P’ for ‘po’ or a feminine lesbian), and it’s like — you’re either one or the other, and there’s not a lot in between. I do see couples where they’re both one or the other, but it’s not very common. 

Our first year together was wonderful. She stayed at my place usually, because hers was really small. The second was really tumultuous, but we got counseling and that helped a lot. So now, we still have our ups and downs but we’re much better at communicating and the ups and downs are on an upward trajectory, so I’m hopeful about that. It’s interesting because I just mentioned that binary of two types of lesbian women in Taiwan, but I’m clearly neither — not too tomboyish, not too feminine — and my girlfriend looks like a tomboy but if you get to know her, she has a really feminine personality. 

So for me, Taiwan is home. I don’t see any benefit to returning to my home country, and my partner is from here, so obviously this is home for her. And I really like it here, so although I worry about long-term prospects, like health and property ownership, it’s hard to see that far into the future but it makes sense for now.

I used to be way more into nightlife, but COVID has kept me away. 

I stay away from a lot of the expat spots because it does just seem to be weird old white men spouting bullshit, and I don’t really want to be around that. There does seem to be an attitude where they think we all want them, but I definitely don’t — like I’m incapable of it. 

I used to go to more things — I even went to a “find a wife" party for lesbian women once, though I was basically the only foreigner there. I spent a lot of time with another girl at that party, so I was disappointed that we didn’t go home together. 

I do see more white male-Taiwanese female relationships but, eh. I mean there are also just a lot more Western men here than women. I’m not sure why that is, but the disparity in who you see in relationships could be impacted by that. 

It’s just wrong to say Western women are all sad sacks here, and anyway it assumes we’re all straight. 

I’m pretty hopeful. Since my girlfriend and I just moved in together, there’s been some adjustment. She’s a huge neatnik, and she had to get used to my cats. One of them ate her plant, I bought her two new plants to make up for it. But, you know, that’s how it is when you first move in together. She loves my cats now and it’s going really well. We dated for over 3 years before moving in together, so we defied the old “U-haul” stereotype.

From "Alice", a woman of color who dated in Taiwan before getting into a long-distance relationship:

I’ve lived in Taiwan for about four years on and off — I went back to my home country for awhile for family reasons — and had lived in another Asian country before coming here. I really like Taiwan, but I was the only foreign teacher at my school in the other country so I didn’t have to put up with too much entitled white male behavior. 

Here, I have a lot of white male colleagues who are married to Taiwanese women, and they complain at work about how bad their relationship is, their personal lives seem to be a mess. And I think ‘you chose this person, and all you do is complain about them? And you act all entitled — maybe your relationship is terrible because you’re terrible.’ 

It’s certainly not all Taiwanese women, but there’s a subset who will maybe look for white guys to date just because they’re white, and those are the women these guys often date or marry, and then they say ‘oh Taiwanese women are crazy’ or ‘she’s crazy’ or ‘women are crazy’ but no — you’re crazy and she’s crazy and crazy found each other.

The problem is, white guys are also the only guys I’ve really dated in Taiwan. As a foreign woman who isn’t white, Taiwanese guys don’t seem that interested, or they hit on me but it’s clearly not serious. 

Basically, the white guys seem to be the only ones willing to look outside their own community to date. But it’s too bad, because the selection isn’t great. A lot of those guys come here to cash in their white privilege and coast, they half-ass it at work and assume they won’t get called out for it, they might not even be qualified for their jobs, and they talk like they’re these studs who can do anything and get anyone. It’s gross. 

And I don't like that it's so racialized -- as a foreign woman of color, I don't want to just date white guys. Where I'm from, sure, people might make friends along cultural, class, professional or education lines. And that's not great either, there are still boundaries [where perhaps there should not be]. But I generally didn’t feel I was only able to make friends with people who looked like me. 

There was one guy who told me he’d dated a lot of different women in the past year, and I figured ‘ok so he’s that sort of guy, I’m not into that’ so I turned him down. I didn’t tell him that was why I said no, though.

 When I first got here I dated around a bit, there were some casual no-strings things which basically ended with good feelings, because they weren’t that serious. 

After I came back to Taiwan I decided to just not date for awhile. That was great, actually! I was so happy, I felt good, emotionally healthy. I was in a really good place. So of course I made the typical mistake: I figured I was really feeling great, in a fantastic place in my life, so why not date someone? And I’ll attract better people too because I do feel confident and happy with myself. 

So I met someone through mutual friends. We got along really well, but didn’t trade contacts when we first met. I ran into him again — you know how in Taiwan every foreigner is maybe two degrees separated from everyone else — and this time we did decide to give it a try. He was a part of a very strong community with deep cultural ties, but he didn’t seem to mind that I wasn’t from that community. We got along so well.

Then, not long after we started dating he broke up with me, saying he only wanted a partner from that community. I thought that was a bullshit excuse: he knew who I was before we started dating, it wasn’t a secret, so why go down that road? It seemed like this was his key, his ‘get out of jail free’ card where he could just pull this excuse whenever he wanted. I was a little pissed. I asked him why he didn’t just date women he’d actually partner with and he said he didn’t want to do that here and never dated those women. So basically he was dating women from outside and giving himself this pass to just not tell them this belief until he’s ready to hop out. 

It didn’t last long, though it was very intense. 

Anyway, maybe we’ll be friends someday because we got along so well, but for now there’s still some chemistry there. 

What’s funny is that I started dating another guy from the same community. I hadn't intended to, actually, I’d swiped left on his profile on a dating app because I felt like I'd been there, done that -- I didn't want someone pulling the same thing on me. But he assured me he wasn't like that, and we went out for awhile. 

Partly we broke up because of the soft lockdown. it was too hard to see each other and honestly, I felt he just wasn't making nearly enough of an effort. Then he pulled the same crap — “I want to date someone from my community” and I did think, “you say you’re different but honestly you two are exactly the same. I’ve already been through this, so I don't want to hear it, bye.” 

Plus, he always wanted me to go to events and such with this group, and I kept saying no, because my ex would be there, and I just wasn’t gonna do that. And even if I did, I’d end up looking like a crazy stalker lady who hunted down some other guy to date so I could get invited and stalk my ex, even if it’s not like that at all — so, just no. 

I did go back to the my home country over the summer because I hadn’t seen my family in awhile. I got on another dating app just to meet people, and I ended up meeting someone I really clicked with. What I liked about those dates was how diverse it was; it wasn’t just white guys, or Asian guys. And I think that’s how dating could be, and I wasn’t getting it in Taiwan. 

Neither me nor the guy I met wanted to do long distance, but I had to come back, so we’re trying it. I’ll probably leave Taiwan next summer though, I think I’m ready to go. 

He’s open to living abroad for awhile, and I do love Taiwan, but we’d have to think about job opportunities for him. I don’t know, we’ll see. It would be cool to come back together, perhaps. 

And I found I appreciated dating someone who had a similar cultural background as me. He grew up in my home country although he’s not white either. I didn’t date Taiwanese guys because they didn’t seem interested in me, but I would have dated a Taiwanese American. Having that cultural connection is just one less thing, one less barrier, that you need to worry about and I’ve learned I value that. 

Finally, from "Olivia", a married bisexual woman:

When I first got here I was in one of those relationships that really needed to end. We loved each other and we just couldn’t break up, but we needed to. So we tried to be long distance, and then one day she suggested trying an open relationship. We all know where that goes — that’s the end. 

I decided to just enjoy being single and date around. If you just want to fuck, that’s easy. People think it’s hard to find someone to fuck if you’re a bigger girl, but it’s not really. I never had a problem. But in the past I was always ‘in a relationship’, I was never single for long, so I was using this time to enjoy seeing multiple people non-exclusively. That could be a lot of fun, but it could also be pretty weird — I brought one guy home and he said ‘oh, you have a cat’. I asked him if that was okay, if he was allergic or anything like that, and he assured me he wasn’t. So afterwards, I look at him and he’s breaking out in hives. It turns out he was deathly allergic to cats, but he wanted to get laid so bad that he pretended not to be. He asked me to go to the hospital with him, but I barely knew the guy! 

Another time, I dated this taller guy. My apartment wasn’t very comfortable, so he invited me to his place next time. I got there and he said ‘oh my girlfriend will be here soon’. I was pissed! He kept saying ‘no, no, she’s really cute, you’ll love her’ but I felt like this was a unicorn hunt — like thinking being bi means you’re up for anything including getting together with a couple, but you’re not exactly asked first. I said, well, let’s go to 7-11 first and have a few drinks, but they started fighting in the store so I left. The girlfriend actually chased after me, and they got really weird about it so I just left. 

I dated a Taiwanese guy who turned out to have serious issues. We were together for a year, and lived together. He’d get really suspicious of everything, including accusing me of infidelity at times when he was there to see that nothing had happened. He would claim he was getting treatment then the same shit happened again, so that was that. 

After that I dated mostly expats for awhile, though not always Westerners. One Chinese-Malaysian guy came over, but before we could get down to business he said something like ‘the problem with Malaysia is all the Malaysians’ so I kicked him out immediately. 

Then there were some really strange ones. I dated a guy I thought was really cool for awhile, though deep down something seemed off. He rarely stayed over, and something just seemed…sus. Well, I found out eventually that had been dating — in fact, he was engaged to! — my coworker, someone I literally sat next to at work! He hadn’t realized we were coworkers. She initially broke up with him but eventually took him back. And yet he sent me long, incoherent messages for awhile, until I blocked him. 

Then there was the guy who really wanted to try group sex. It was just something he was desperate to experience. I said yes to this, and we got a suite at a nice hotel with a few other curious couples. Well, it turned out that basically everyone there was straight but me! The thing is, the two other women were curious about what it was like to be with a woman, and their partners were fine with them trying it out with me, and I was into it. But this guy was so pissed that this whole orgy thing he’d organized wasn’t all about him and his dick. 

There were a few others, but eventually I met my husband through mutual friends, so that’s all in the past now. But this idea that Western women are these sex-starved harpies who want to snatch the D from any white fucker who pops along…no, not really. At least not in my experience. That’s some bullshit they tell themselves.

Someday I'll likely do another one of these -- a Part III, if you will. A trilogy. I hope you've enjoyed the details and learned something about not stereotyping Western women in Taiwan. And please, please remember that we are truly not desperate hags gagging for, ahem, any white fucker who pops along

We're just not. Good night.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

John Oliver actually did an episode about Taiwan! How was it?

For months, I've been lobbying Last Week Tonight to do a segment on Taiwan. There was a Facebook group and a petition, which were covered by the Taipei Times. It was a thing, though I didn't always have the energy to give it the momentum it needed, although I did try to provide a steady influx of fun pro-Taiwan memes. Not because the memes should make the show, but because memes get views, likes and shares which would get the actual petition more visibility.

Why Last Week Tonight? I chose them specifically because they did strong segments on China, the Uyghurs and Hong Kong in the past. The Daily Show and The Late Show have blundered on China and Taiwan in the past, getting Taiwan's situation painfully wrong or softballing China. They were not ideal candidates. Oliver handled similar sensitive topics well: he was the guy to do this.

Last night, they actually did the episode! I have no idea if my effort had any impact at all -- perhaps they'd already decided to go this way long before I started any of it. Perhaps they got the idea independently and it was a big, fat coincidence. One of the producers is Taiwanese-American and one of the writers used to live in Kaohsiung, so it's entirely possible this had nothing to do with my petition. 

I just wanted the show to happen. It did. That's the win.

When I started this, there was a lot of support -- thanks to everyone who contributed images, memes and translations, and to the Taipei Times for bumping its visibility! -- but also a lot of unhelpful comments. Some could be ignored completely: I don't care if you think John Oliver and his show are dandies of the pseudo-liberal bourgeoisie. Some just said he wasn't funny, or wasn't 'leftist' enough. But who cares? 

This was the point: Taiwan needs a moment in front of a mainstream Western liberal audience in a fun, easily digestible format. We need to reach the people who will tune into a late night news satire show, but not, say, listen to Tsai Ing-wen on CNN or read an editorial in the Wall Street Journal. We need that because there's just not enough general knowledge about Taiwan out there, there's a global dismissal of the wishes of the Taiwanese people for their own future, and general solidarity can mean political influence: the John Oliver Effect is real.

The show happened, and it got Taiwan in front of a bunch of new viewers. And it was a great show! Because I enjoy dissecting media, I do want to talk about the segment's strong and weak points. But before going down that road, let's all admit that as a whole, it was an unqualified success. It not only got Taiwan in front of a mainstream liberal audience -- which, again, was the key goal -- but it did a highly competent job, too. On the whole I'd give this a 95% out of 100, and that's a damn good appraisal for someone as picky as me about good coverage of Taiwan (I have no time for half-baked analyses and tired ideas recycled as 'new' and certainly no time at all for pro-China takes when China has missiles pointed at my house.) 

Let's start with what they got right, because I want to emphasize that it was indeed excellent. 

The messaging was on-point. Any criticism I have is pretty much meaningless in the face of this all-important triumph. They used Taiwanese voices to make points about Taiwan: not only President Tsai but also Sexy Legislator Freddy Lim screaming "Chinese Fucking Taipei, it's FUCKING BULLSHIT!" That's how you do it. Great job. The ending was superb: how can you go wrong with supporting Taiwan deciding its own future? 

The show got the 'stacks of warplanes' right, and pointed out that they've been electing people who are pretty comfortable calling Taiwan independent. They used amusing media -- butt plugs, John Cena, a WHO representative (figuratively) pretending to have a brain hemorrhage to avoid talking about Taiwan -- to make strong points and showed just how cringey it is for the world to so clearly want to avoid talking about Taiwan for fear of shattering so many glass hearts in China. 

The history was done quite well: I'd give it a 99%. I would not have made it sound as though the Qing governed all of Taiwan (mostly, they didn't -- they held about a third until the final decade or so of their rule), and perhaps 228 deserved a moment. But the White Terror got a lot of time, which frankly it needed. Now millions of Americans who don't know that Taiwan was once a Japanese colony and KMT military rule was horrible, which they might not have known two days ago. 

The murky jungle of communiques and carefully worded agreements and acts was also handled quite well, with the top-notch Kharis Templeman explaining how the US acknowledges but does not necessarily accept the Chinese claim on Taiwan, and that Taiwan's status is undetermined. I've never liked 'strategic ambiguity', and perhaps the fact that it's no longer very ambiguous could have been mentioned. The US has never been clearer! However, a lot of viewers likely thought that the US simply believed Taiwan to be a part of China. Now they know that's not the case. It's a win. 

I'll even take the mascots, because Last Week Tonight loves those. I'll take the bubble tea, even though it feels like an obligatory inclusion. I'll take John Cena even though I literally do not know why he's famous.

So we've got:

Mostly strong history of Taiwan highlighting how it's not particularly Chinese & how awful the KMT was (check)

Freddy Lim screaming that Chinese Fucking Taipei is Fucking Bullshit (check)

Pretty good overview of the current US position (check)

Buttplugs (check)

Mocking cringey White Guys with bad opinions (check)

Tsai Ing-wen saying basically "we are an independent country, we don't need to declare independence" (check)

Taiwan deserves to decide its own future (check)

Guy speaking Taiwanese at the end saying "look I'm just trying to live my life" amid quite a bit of Japanese aesthetic (check -- and love the inclusion of the Taiwanese language!)

I'll take it!

It is worth discussing the weaker aspects, however. If you just wanted to ride the love train, you can stop here -- this is more of an exercise in media dissection than actual criticism. I loved the show, and I want to keep that clear. Even the parts I didn't love achieved their goal, and I love that goal. 

First, let's talk about the way Oliver discusses Tsai's own words. I'm not a huge fan of this: he makes it sound like she's in favor of 'maintaining the status quo' and 'not declaring independence' when that's not exactly what she said. It's true that she chooses her words carefully (she has to), but here are her exact words:

The idea is, we don't have a need to declare ourselves an independent state, we are an independent country.

I suppose it's true that she's 'drawing a line' at a 'declaration of independence', but she didn't say Taiwan would 'stop short' of a formal declaration of independence. She offered an entirely different perspective: that there is no need to declare independence formally, because Taiwan is already independent. Would you need to ask any other country to declare independence formally, when they are already functioning independent states? No. So why would you need to ask it of Taiwan?

That is, honestly, one kind of pro-independence position, and that was the position she was elected on.

"Independence" can mean many different things, including believing that there is no need to formally declare what you already are. If the only way to be fully "pro-independence" is to be "in favor of a formal declaration of independence", then that shoves what can and cannot be considered 'pro-independence' to the sidelines. It forces it to remain a fringe opinion and pushes everyone who holds it to sound radical, when it's not and they're not: it's mainstream. Pro-independence supporters are not a fringe element, so defining it to make them so is disingenuous and weak analysis. 

The second weak part was the discussion of the 'status quo'. The poll they cited is not particularly reliable; specifically, the questions are formed in such a way that if you're worried about a war of any kind, many with pro-independence leanings are going to choose 'the status quo'. What they're actually choosing isn't the 'status quo', which is not tenable and not desirable in and of itself. They're choosing sovereignty without war. 

That, again, is a functionally a pro-independence position. Any other interpretation relegates 'independence' to the fringe of Taiwanese political discourse, when it's not. 

While Oliver did mention that 'the status quo' can mean different things to different people, he didn't elaborate. When you talk about the status quo, you really have to point out the conditions under which people are answering: with guns to their heads. Literally, if you consider Chinese missiles and warplanes to just be fancy flying guns.

Who would choose the status quo if they did not have a gun to their head? Perhaps some people -- certainly some internal disputes about the name of the country would have to be worked out -- but I doubt it would be many.

Since 'the status quo' requires that much elaboration to be even remotely clear, I would not have gone with such a weak premise. It just wasn't the best choice if the time wasn't there to elaborate. That was to the segment's detriment. Instead, it's better to pick something that paints a clear picture, shows that there's some internal disagreement but also highlights the strong consensus that exists alongside it: Taiwanese identity. 

Around 70% of Taiwanese identify as solely Taiwanese. About a third identify as Taiwanese and Chinese, with other research showing most of those prioritize Taiwanese identity. About 2% -- less than the margin of error -- identify as solely Chinese.

That shows some internal divergence of opinion while clarifying that there is indeed a consensus, and that it's not to be a part of China, in whatever form that takes. "Status quo" data can be brought in to show that there's a strong preference not to fight a war if at all possible, but that's about all it's good for.

The second part I thought was just 'okay' was the section on Taiwan's armed forces. It's true that recruitment is down, the topic flows clearly from the previous point, and the video is amusing: I imagine that's why the writing team decided to include it. 

However, it has the side effect of once again making Taiwan seem more divided than it is. Nobody reasonable would argue that all Taiwanese are in alignment with their desires for Taiwan's future. I don't think any country can claim that (though many governments try to). But there is a consensus of sorts and it deserved to be sussed out a little more.

The armed forces are not having trouble recruiting because people are unwilling to fight China. Of course, nobody knows what they'd do in a real wartime situation, but polls show that most are, indeed, willing to defend their country. That's the best data we've got, so anyone wanting to imply Taiwanese would not fight needs to do a lot of legwork to prove that as the numbers are not on their side. I suspect most people willing to defend Taiwan aren't joining the military because they figure that if there's a real war, they'll be called up to fight anyway. That's reasonable! 

If ambivalence about China isn't the reason why military recruitment is low, then what is? Mostly that the military doesn't offer a great career path. It's not seen as desirable or something for 'intelligent' people to do, which is a shame when you have a defensive force facing a huge superpower like China. The pay is mediocre, and while you can retire young and get a good pension -- last I heard you could get 50% pay after leaving a military career at 40 -- overall it's just not a prestigious choice. 

The other reason has to do with Taiwan's own history. The military used to be the oppressors. Do you really expect the descendants of people the military routinely detained, disappeared, tortured and killed are going to be signing up in droves to train with them? To fight under that white sun and blue sky symbol that oppressed them for so long? I'm not Taiwanese, but the thought of doing that gives me the shakes. 

The military doesn't have a recruitment problem due to ambivalence about China. They have it because they don't provide attractive career opportunities, and retain some symbolism of an authoritarian past. 

Finally, I wasn't a big fan of starting out by calling Taiwan an "entity" (it's a country) and then using the verb "reunify" (which they do once because Xi Jinping says it -- fine -- but it comes out of Oliver's mouth once too. Less fine). He does, however, use the term "country" later on, which I acknowledged, and the show itself has said they tried to limit usage of "reunify" to parts where they were discussing the Xi/China viewpoint. That's fair. 

Don't take all this criticism too seriously

At the end, the segment sticks the landing. The messaging is on point, and the weaker parts don't detract from it. There are also things I would have included: Taiwan's amazing COVID response (yes, it's still amazing), marriage equality and other progressive credentials and perhaps a little less on the weaker 'status quo' and 'military' sections. 

But as it is, it's great work -- better than I expected from a Western media outlet, and better than anything Last Week Tonight's fellow satire news shows could have offered. Indeed, that's why I chose them for the petition and Facebook page.

I'm not dissecting it to discourage future media from taking on the topic of Taiwan: I'd love it of more of them did, and made an effort as earnest as Last Week Tonight in doing so. As I've said many times, really only friends and Taiwan insiders who already care about this country are likely to read Lao Ren Cha. The wider world won't, because it's a niche blog. So this is for the insiders, to see the segment disassembled and examined. It's not a warning to Western media that they can never do Taiwan well. 

Clearly they can, if they want to. Last Week Tonight just did!

This segment gets the right message in front of the right audience, which simply writing about Taiwan was never going to do. That's a win, and I'll take it.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Book Review -- Taiwan's Green Parties: Alternative Politics in Taiwan

Available from Routledge and on Amazon

Most political research and scholarship on Taiwan focuses on the major political parties, or at least the ones that have something of an election track record. Much energy has been spent dissecting the KMT and DPP from an academic perspective, and I suspect more successful small parties like the TPP and NPP will receive similar scrutiny in the future. Perhaps, given the New Party and People First Party’s erstwhile success, they’ll get some attention too. 

Then there are the tiny parties: the TSU (effectively dormant), the Social Democratic Party (whose only elected official happens to serve in my district), the Trees Party (still around?), the Statebuilding Party (perhaps an interesting subject of inquiry given that their only elected legislator was just recalled), Can’t Stop This Party (composed of Youtubers) the Minkuotang  (MKT, which later merged with another odd little party) and, of course, the Green Party Taiwan (GPT). 

Nobody seems to write about them much, mostly because they’re either quite new or don’t have much political influence. They don’t win a lot of seats, so they don’t get a lot of attention.

That has changed with Dafydd Fell’s Taiwan’s Green Parties: Alternative Politics in Taiwan, an insider account of the formation and evolution of the GPT, with ancillary-but-important looks into their frenemies, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Judean People’s Front Trees Party. 

 “We’re the People’s Front of Judea…listen, the only thing we hate more than the Romans are the Judean People’s Front.”

When reading Taiwan’s Green Parties, I kept thinking about how, well, incestuous Taiwan’s progressive and activist political scene are. Many of the fallouts recounted in the book seem to be just as much the ups and downs of personal friendships — and friendships often end — as they are any real difference in concrete political beliefs or policy ideas. The Trees Party didn’t form because they are different in ideology from the GPT. They formed because they had different approaches to the same ends, and they realized they were being marginalized in the GPT. Imagine finding out you weren’t invited to movie night, because the new guy has convinced everyone you’re awful for always ordering pepperoni pizza instead of only vegetarian options. Yes, we’re talking about you in the group chat.

The Green Party went on to form a brief alliance with the SDP, only to have it fall apart with recriminations on both sides. Again, the SDP and Green Party aren’t really that different in ideology and you can be sure they all know each other. They — and everyone else in their ideological ballpark — all attend the same lectures, readings and protests. They probably go to the same cafes. The DPP can poach them because the DPP has already recruited some of their friends. (Yes, that is how it works.) 

In this respect, the Statebuilding Party seems to be actively forging a different path: forming in southern Taiwan and not necessarily recruiting from the same pool of Taipei cafe-goers. For that alone, they’re worth keeping an eye on, especially as their one legislator has just been recalled. In fact, future comparisons between Statebuilding and GPT might be interesting to consider: of the KMT revenge recalls, the NPP have survived whereas the GPT’s Wang Hao-yu (defected to the DPP right around the time of his recall) and Statebuilding Party’s Chen Po-wei have both gone down. Statebuilding actively avoids recruiting from the same pool of activists but will form alliances with them, whereas GPT can’t seem to form lasting alliances, and doesn’t seem to realize that the frequent poaching they experience is indeed detrimental.

On this claustrophobic theme, it also struck me how small Taiwan politics really is. I’m nobody at all, neither an academic nor an activist, and I’ve personally met enough people mentioned by name in this book that it might take more than one hand to count them. Mostly, we’ve perhaps talked briefly at the same gathering. In one case, a good friend’s name popped up, as it always seems to. 

As for the research itself, it’s impeccable. For details, head to Frozen Garlic’s review. He’s a trained political scientist, I’m not. In more general terms, however, I appreciated how in looking through the GPT’s past, Fell adjusts the benchmarks that might be used to determine whether a party is competitive, and then goes to some length to justify that modification. It has a magnifying effect: from far away, using benchmarks met by parties with records of real electoral success, the GPT looks like a failure from start to finish. Zooming in, however, and adjusting the scale and field accordingly, the ups and downs of the GPT can be better teased out and analyzed. 

Frozen Garlic categorizes these waves as “clear failure,” “dismal failure” and “utter failure”. He’s not wrong, but looking at what factors underpinned each era of various failures still provides a wealth of information on what it’s like to work for a small party, how these parties get funding and how much, how they campaign (or not) and how they interact with each other as well as other parties. 

From that time I met SDP politician Miao Po-ya, who gets a mention in the book. 

The short of it: it’s stressful. It isn’t a way to build an actual paid career — instead, dedicated members find themselves pouring their own funds into keeping the party afloat. It’s a constant balancing act between trying to figure out how to get votes, and sticking to your principles. But then you make that choice, and others in your party strike that balance differently, and that disagreement spills over into disorganization: not just presenting a chaotic face but actually being unable to get their act together. Then the elections come and go and, while perhaps the GPT could have won more if they’d been better able to cooperate and seize very obvious opportunities that came their way, they don’t. Recriminations follow — either their leaders were too focused on votes and blowing up social media, or not nearly focused enough on actually wining votes. People leave. Perhaps they are poached by the DPP, or leave politics, or start a new party. A new era begins…

Through all this, this same group of people seems to be more interested in dissecting ideological differences or severing ties with each other than it does facing any sort of common enemy. This is why they can’t seem to agree on a coherent policy regarding how much support to give the DPP, work with other small parties on their own side to form alliances or even take a clear line on national identity, even though they have one. They can’t work with the ideologically similar SDP, they’ll work with the TPP (often seen as light blue) to attack their ideological cousins the NPP, but one of their candidates did a photo op with an MKT candidate because it made sense vis-a-vis local Hakka clan affiliations — even though the GPT and MKT are worlds apart? Hm. I would question the strategizing, to put it mildly.

Because the GPT tries to be more about ideals than building a political legacy, they not only have very little influence in actual politics -- all of the things the more powerful parties have done in line with the GPT’s ideas don’t seem to have been inspired by the GPT in any direct way). It’s hard to keep committed people this way, however. If there isn’t a realistic path to actual political impact through the GPT, you’re going to get true believers — those are great, but people do need money to live. So only a few of the most committed will actually do the work, and everyone else will float in and out.

Why? Because while they may agree on the politics, there’s a point at which people start focusing on building actual careers. So often, activism takes a backseat. And the ones doing the work complain about how disorganized it is, how branches of the party are withering, how people aren’t showing up. And to be honest, it seems they've got a point.

When someone does get an opportunity — to, say, garner some support from a popular presidential candidate like Tsai Ing-wen, or work in a DPP cabinet in environmental affairs — they face criticism from their original party for selling out. I would ask: are you really sticking to your ideals if you are insisting on paths that will obviously and clearly never lead to getting any of those ideals enshrined in policy? At what point does an idealist act as contrary to their own ideals as they claim the “sellout” does, if they’re always creating their own insurmountable hurdles to getting their ideas injected into popular and influential discourse? 

If a party can’t figure out who your own voters are and where to focus your efforts, is that party indeed showing more ideological purity than those who choose differently, and actually get some change pushed through? What good is ideology if you can't win a lick of influence?

Other than squabbling, factionalism and general disorganization, there was some discussion of the GPT’s actual platforms, and to what extent other parties, activists and voters were even aware of them. One interviewee noted how challenging it was to clarify these positions: when you post a policy analysis and proposals on Facebook you get essentially zero attention. When you post an attack on a hated figure like Han Kuo-yu, the views, likes and comments come pouring in. Other parties seem to think the GPT only cares about the environment, and the GPT doesn’t seem to have done much to counter this except ask people to read their charter. 

I sympathize with this: as a blogger I know what it’s like to see something ultimately meaningless take off, when your favorite or most in-depth work doesn’t. However, every other party of moderate success has figured out this balance. The GPT could do this, if it could set goals, agree on them and work towards them as a cohesive and organized unit. What doesn’t work is telling people to do more work to learn these things. They won’t. It doesn’t matter if they should. They won’t. 

Another thing that jumped out at me while reading Taiwan’s Green Parties, which is an unqualified positive for the GPT: their willingness to engage globally. I don’t just mean their work with the Global Greens, but also intra-party. Robin Winkler is a naturalized Taiwanese citizen who seriously considered running for office more than once (I don’t think any other party has considered running a naturalized citizen, but correct me if I’m wrong). Linda Arrigo headed their international affairs department. While every party is willing to employ foreigners, the GPT seems a breed apart in not just welcoming people like Arrigo and Winkler, but not necessarily thinking of them as different or ‘apart’ simply because they’re not originally from Taiwan. 

All in all, however, Taiwan’s Green Parties is an excellent book — equal parts enjoyable reading and academically grounded — and well worth a read for anyone interested in obscure corners of Taiwanese politics, especially on the left. It's academic, but written engagingly. However, the ideal reader will already have a strong notion of Taiwanese party politics before they pick up this book, so as to properly contextualize the names, small parties and other affiliations that crop up. 

Recommended food pairing for Taiwan’s Green Parties: a pint at your local and lots of popcorn

Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Chen Po-wei recall: a local victory for the KMT at the cost of national goodwill?

I don't have a relevant cover photo, so enjoy a pleasant one.

I'm tired and sad, but I have a few thoughts on the Chen Po-wei (陳柏惟) recall.  Also I was writing this during the big earthquake today so I'm both literally and figuratively all shaken up.

Update: Yep, I didn't think to check the predictive text on his name. Fixed now.

Since I'm just not feeling it today, I'll let someone else -- probably Frozen Garlic -- do the numbers properly. But, from a quick look, it seems that while turnout would have been enough to unseat Chen under the old recall system (it just about topped 50%, which was the old turnout threshold), the signatures needed to recall him would not have been sufficient in the first place. 

But the recall did happen, and he did lose his seat, and I have thoughts.

First, many note that the reformed recall procedures were actually a push from the left -- mostly post-Sunflower Movement activists after a failed attempt to recall the widely-hated legislator Tsai Cheng-yuan (蔡正元). Now, they seem to be used exclusively by the KMT to go after small-party Third Force types, as revenge for the DPP daring to back an ultimately successful recall of Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) from the Kaohsiung mayorship. 

Did the activists pushing for the relaxation of recall procedures know the opposition would use it against them, or did they unwittingly provide the weapon of their own defeat?

From everything I know, it's the former. The groups that pushed for recall reform are not made up of unintelligent people incapable of forethought. Of course they were aware that the KMT would use it against them. So either they thought the KMT's days as a popular party capable of successfully unseating opposition lawmakers were numbered if not over, or they believed so singularly and purely in the fundamental correctness of changing the regulations for the betterment of society that they were willing to face the future obstacles they put in their own way. 

Think Socrates and the hemlock -- the elementary-school history version of it, anyway. 

You can commend these activists for pushing through something they felt was inherently right for society, even knowing they were handing a weapon to the bad guys. I don't. Honestly, if we're not dealing with critical human rights such as freedom of expression, assembly, religion, non-discrimination etc., I just don't think changing the requirements of a recall threshold count is one of those vitally important things. 

Yes, the old thresholds (13% of eligible voter signatures to get a vote, over 50% turnout on that vote) were high, and yes, the Republic of China guarantees citizens the right to recall elections -- it was part of Sun Yat-sen's original philosophy and is enshrined in the constitution. Yes, reform would not have been a bad thing. But did the new ones really need to be so low? Frozen Garlic thinks not, and I agree. The pan-greens and left did not need to stake so much on those specific new rules. Certainly, there's nothing ethically or morally "better" about the current 10% of voters needed to sign a petition and 25% of voters needed to actually recall.

While the pan-blue forces -- and all their patronage networks/gangster friends/local factionistas -- have had a spotty record on actually recalling people, they've also been the only ones trying. Typically, they've targeted not DPP legislators but people from minor parties, succeeding about half them time. Huang Kuo-chang (NPP) and Huang Chieh (now former NPP) survived, Wang Hao-yu (Green Party until just before the recall, then switched to the DPP, which didn't save him) and now Chen did not.

They're going after independent legislator Freddy Lim (林昶佐) next: we'll see what happens.

On the other side, you could say that the pan-greens are trying to use the recall responsibly: they've only turned it on Han Kuo-yu. But Han had dug his own grave: I'm speculating here, but Han probably would have lost re-election on his own. Recalling him saved Kaohsiung from bad governance -- he was pretty clearly not doing his job -- and had a morale-boosting effect for the pan-greens. 

Now that the KMT is consistently using the same recall tools, however, the DPP and Third Force essentially can't. It would become an expensive, time-wasting, pointless game of dueling recalls, which won't foster any goodwill with any voters. 

I'm generally on the Third Force's side in most things. That said, I honestly think reforming the recall procedures as they did was a bad idea and was not worth the eventual cost. I don't care how strongly they believed in it. It wasn't a good call. You do the right thing against your own best interests when it's human rights on the line, when it really matters -- this amounted to shooting themselves in the foot over recall thresholds that could have been lower, but never needed to be that low for any reason pertaining to any greater good. 

There is hope, though. The KMT recalled a young, energetic, high-profile legislator from the left who, while friendly with the DPP, is not the DPP. They attacked him over ractopamine pork, but they're the same party that voted through ractopamine beef: it's just not a valid complaint from them. They said he wasn't doing his job, but unlike with Han, I see no evidence that was actually the case. And he's not only locally prominent, but nationally as the first elected legislator from a small, new, overtly pro-independence party. 

What does the KMT have to offer in Chen's place? More under-the-table politics, more geezers or sons-of-geezers, more gangster-affiliated factional crap in Taichung. More of the same. Nothing inspirational. 

Perhaps the KMT thought this would be a galvanizing moment for them, the way Han's recall was for the pan-greens. But I doubt it: whoever takes Chen's place is going to be a local factional pol, not a nationally-popular figure. They may gain one seat in the legislature, but I don't see this as particularly beneficial for them simply because they have nothing to offer but more of the same. This is unlikely to have much positive effect beyond the actual seat they just opened up.

That it was an obvious revenge recall and not based on any unfitness or incompetence on Chen's part, however, will likely galvanize the exact people they are seeking to demoralize -- the pan-greens. They're pissed. They know what this is and they're gonna fight harder because of it. 

The KMT tried to send the message that if you mess with them, they'll go after your most prominent figures, and sometimes succeed in taking them out. 

The message they actually sent was "we're shitheads and you can't trust us to use the tools of democracy responsibly." Not on a local scale, perhaps. Not in that particular district -- but nationally. 

Imagine a weird gun that, every time you take a shot at an opponent, whether you hit your target or not, also discharges a bullet into your foot. It doesn't take you out completely, but you injure yourself a little more every time you use it. Nobody would ever design such a weapon, but that's how I picture the current state of recalls in Taiwan.

I can only hope that by handing the KMT a potent weapon in recall reform, that the activists who pushed it through will ultimately benefit in an unlikely way: the KMT will use it so much, so viciously and so clearly without grounds or reason, that for every shot they fire at the pan-greens, whether they take someone out or not, they're also shooting themselves in the foot. 

Monday, October 18, 2021

There are only wrong answers when you ask the "Taiwan Question"

Armenian refugees in Athens, taken some time after 1924

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, scholars, diplomats, those generally interested in international politics and people I would call "Ottoman Watchers" -- though the term almost certainly did not exist -- discussed and debated the "Armenian Question" at length. The decline of the Ottoman Empire saw the rise of the "Hamidian massacres" of Armenians in the 1890s and eventually the 1915 genocide perpetrated by the Young Turks.

The ethno-nationalist beliefs of the otherwise liberal-seeming Young Turks was lifted directly from European nationalism, on the rise since the 1840s. The independence and self-determination movements of this emerging nationalist sentiment might be considered a form of liberalism, but strong (conservative) ethno-nationalist currents undercut that. 

While these slaughters took place leading up to the Armenian Genocide, the talkers talked. The dandies dandied. The parlor-chatters parlayed. The salon-occupiers occupied themselves. How to solve the Armenian Question? Whatever was to be done with the Armenians? Those far-away orientals?

(Yes, it's true that I just about the whitest lady who ever whited. I don't deny that or the privilege attached to it, even though an entire branch of my family were considered 'Eastern' until very recently.) 

My ancestors lived and died through that. One of my direct ancestors was a victim, murdered by the Kemalist forces in Smyrna in 1922. Two other direct ancestors died in the refugee camp at Port Said after the successful defense of Musa Dagh in 1915 (although they were too old to have played a part in the actual fighting). Others lost siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. That side of my family is littered with the names of people who died between 1915 and 1922. Except they did not just die -- they were massacred.

My great-great grandfather Hagop, murdered by Kemalists in Smyrna

It was so unspeakably horrific that an old folk song, Nubari Boye (Nubar's Height), went from being a lovely ode from a girl to her sweetheart describing his height, his brow and handsome build to an elegiac song symbolizing the death of so many of those sweethearts.

It seemed the Armenian Question had an answer, at least for the "debaters" in drawing rooms and cafes far away. It wasn't the "right" answer, because that doesn't exist. Their answer, however, appears to have been do
 nothing at all and just let them be slaughtered

But I am sure they were very intellectually stimulating debates indeed. 

My great-great-great grandparents, whom I believe (from what evidence I have) died at the Port Said refugee camp after the Musa Dagh resistance

Now, the Communist Party of China is drawing fire for its "final solution" to the "Taiwan Question". Many have pointed out the similarity in language to the Nazis' "final solution" -- that is, the Holocaust. Something everyone with a heart and soul has agreed should never be allowed to happen again. 

Obviously, this is horrifying. That should not need to be said. I simply cannot believe that whoever wrote in Chinese state-run media that there was a "final solution" to the Taiwan question was unaware of the connotations of that abominable phrase. 

While this has been going on, the other half of that statement hasn't drawn quite as much fire. I understand why: it's just not as powerfully unacceptable as the other term which appears in the same sentence. 

I do want to point it out, however.

The "Armenian Question" was not the only question asked in those decades. There was a "Jewish Question" too. That question was answered in much the same way as the Armenian Question: it was discussed a lot, and then a genocide was ultimately allowed to happen.

An Armenian refugee settlement in Athens after WWI

Even the Ottoman Empire's allies, the Central Powers, did nothing. Germany did nothing, even as their own ambassador, Henry Morgenthau, documented the horrors he saw. He wasn't the only one.

If that's the answer to the question -- discuss it at length as an interesting intellectual debate at a far remove from one's own personal, emotional or empathetic concerns until ultimately there is a slaughter ending in massive and heartbreaking loss of life -- then what are we to make today of the "Taiwan Question"?

Are we going to debate it as an abstract notion in international affairs, or are we going to see that Chinese threats against Taiwan are very real, very violent, and could end in the massacre of millions as an annexationist CCP attempts (and quite possibly succeeds) at subjugating Taiwan, with no rational justification?

Because that is what will happen if we treat this like an abstraction or a debate, but ultimately do little or nothing. That is what China is intending to happen -- they don't even try to hide it. They talk openly about meting out punishment to "Taiwanese independence supporters" and "splittists", knowing full well that most Taiwanese identify as solely Taiwanese and do not support unification, which by China's definition, makes them "splittists". That, again, is millions of people. 

It's not just Chinese media saying this, either. China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs uses the term. Here it is from an American think tank saying they care about "safeguarding peace", while using language that implies anything but. Here's an article from a legal scholar in Singapore using it (it isn't a very good article). That's just the first page of results. 


What will it take to convince the self-important debaters that China is genocidal and means to engage in further massacre?

We're asking the same questions, in the same salons, the same sort of callow bloviators in different hairstyles and clothing. We're doing exactly what people did before: debating at a remove, refusing to actually try to answer the question, until the question gets answered by the wrong people and millions die. 

Why do we do this? Because answering the question honestly requires one to grapple with the very real paradox: we keep saying we won't let it happen again, but we don't want to go to war to stop it. We know that actually engaging with the threat these questions pose to the lives of millions of people far away means we can't do nothing. And it's so much easier to do nothing, and then debate the next question. Write papers about it, maybe publish books or articles and pretend this is all useful work and helpful fucking debate.

But is it useful work, if it doesn't prevent the next bloody -- literally bloody -- question from being asked?

It is hard to imagine how my ancestors must have felt, hearing about the Armenian Question. I know they heard about it, because even though the people talking about them far away assumed those 'orientals' weren't listening or didn't understand, they fucking did. And I know they did, because they all spoke not just Western Armenian but English, or French, or Arabic, or any combination of these. 

But I can imagine this: they most likely heard about the Armenian Question and thought simply:

I'm not a question. I'm a person.


Although it's hard to say, I believe this is my great-grandmother as a teenager, not long before her father was dragged away in front of her and murdered

It is not as hard to imagine how Taiwanese must feel when people ask the "Taiwan Question."  I'm not Taiwanese, but I do live here. This is my permanent home, I will fight for it, and those missiles are pointed at my house too.

They are not questions. They are people. 

Millions of people who will die unless the world realizes that there is no right way to answer these kinds of questions. Either you do the right thing, or you don't, but debating people's lives as an abstraction as they face an imminent threat to their survival is not useful. It's not even particularly intellectual. It's just cruel.

History repeats itself in other ways, too. The Chinese government denies the current Uyghur Genocide in much the same way the Turkish government insists the Armenian Genocide never happened. But of course it did. I know that not just because I grew up knowing my great-grandmother, a survivor, but extensive documentary evidence (including telegrams) as well as past admissions by the Turkish government that it had: a Turkish court condemned the exiled perpetrators to death in absentia. A monument to the genocide existed in what is not Gezi Park in Istanbul until Kemalists took it down in 1922.

And China will either speak the truth about Taiwan knowing few are really listening, or they'll attempt to lie about it. This is how it goes. This is the fascist playbook.

This descendant of genocide survivors -- except not all of them survived -- has not forgiven the historical figures who talked about the Armenians at length but ultimately did nothing. Who took a goddamn century to even recognize the Armenian Genocide. 


My great-grandfather -- he joined the resistance despite having been a loyal military officer, but ultimately lost a brother and several other relatives in the genocide

And she won't forgive you in the future, if you continue to ask questions that cannot be answered as intellectual exercises, and do nothing until the people you are talking about are slaughtered.

Perhaps it doesn't matter that I won't forgive you, but I can tell you this: history won't forgive you either. 

Me (the older kid) with my great-grandmother. She passed when I was about 13.


A reward for reading through this absolute howl, this scream from the belly: Zepyuri Nman (Like a Zephyr), all about how this guy'll come from the mountains like a gentle breeze and put his sword in his sweetheart's garden. Not joking. Those are the lyrics. Enjoy.